The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday that it will not pursue criminal charges against a reporter who was arrested during a protest earlier this month, citing “insufficient evidence” from the sheriff’s department.
Josie Huang, a journalist for NPR affiliate KPCC and LAist, was covering an anti-police protest on Sept. 12 in Lynwood, Calif. While filming the arrest of a demonstrator, she was thrown to the ground by deputies. Her arrest was captured by fellow reporters and went viral.
“So very grateful for all the support bestowed on me as a reporter,” Huang wrote on Thursday following the DA’s announcement. “Also...the 1st Amendment means all of us, not just journalists at recognized news orgs, have the rights of free speech and assembly.”
So very grateful for all the support bestowed on me as a reporter. Also...the 1st Amendment means all of us, not just journalists at recognized news orgs, have the rights of free speech and assembly. https://t.co/H8qErOLk55— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) September 25, 2020
In an additional statement, Huang said she was “gratified” by the decision and will be seeking a finding of “factual innocence” to wipe the “unlawful” arrest from her record.
Protests have continued for weeks in Los Angeles against racial injustice and police brutality. A Black man was also shot and killed by deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department several weeks ago. The protests also come after two sheriff's deputies were shot and injured in the city's Compton neighborhood.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s office initially claimed that Huang “ran towards the deputies” and “ignored repeated commanded to stay back” while authorities were arresting a demonstrator. The sheriff's office also said she did not identify herself as press and did not have proper press credentials.
(3/3) The female adult, who was later identified as a member of the press, did not identify herself as press and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person. Both individuals have been arrested for 148 P.C.— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) September 13, 2020
The district attorney memo, obtained by LAist, found that there was “insufficient evidence” from the sheriff's office to prove an obstruction of justice charge.
It cites the penal code she was accused of violating, which states that photographing or recording an officer in a public place is not a violation of the law.
The memo also states that Huang was arrested so quickly that she was not given an opportunity to comply with the officers.
“When asked to back up she is almost immediately grabbed by deputies and taken to the ground giving her little if any time to comply,” the memo states. “It does not appear that she was intentionally attempting to interfere with the deputies, but merely trying to record the occurrence.”
Huang described her arrest as “being tossed around in the ocean and then slammed into rock.”
Thank you https://t.co/5ajOiRV1m6 for what is the clearest footage of my arrest by @LASDHQ.— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) September 14, 2020
It’s how I remember it — like being tossed around in the ocean and then slammed into rock pic.twitter.com/G3rfCR1NiI
The memo also contradicts the sheriff’s department statement claiming Huang did not identify herself as a member of the press, stating, “At least one deputy heard [Huang] say she was a reporter, because he can be heard to say, ‘Do what you’re told if you’re a reporter.’”
In video Huang filmed during her arrest, she is heard shouting, “I’m a reporter. I’m with KPCC.” She then tells her arresting officers that they are hurting her.
After my phone drops, it keeps recording and it captures two deputies damaging my phone by kicking and stepping on it. I can hear myself in the background shouting: “You guys are hurting me” and “Stop it.” It feels very out-of-body to play this back. pic.twitter.com/8o1kdjqlA9— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) September 13, 2020
The sheriff’s department told LAist that it disagreed with the district attorney’s decision not to pursue a criminal case against the reporter.
"This case was investigated and all the elements of the crime were present. The case was presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and they ultimately declined to prosecute. This is not uncommon, as they must weigh many factors into their decision," the agency said in a statement.
It also noted that "an internal investigation was opened in this matter and appropriate administrative action will be taken."